A Level Results Day and the Polymathic Adventurer!

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A level results day is always a bittersweet day for me, school left me when I was sixteen and by the time many of my friends were getting their A level results I was working on a market stall selling, amongst other things, whoopee cushions and fart powder. Both products with clear results.

But I digress. As a teacher I loved A level results day, it is exciting to see children, who you have seen grow, at a crossroads in their lives. Where to go? What to do? Did I get the grades? Fear, joy and misery, it’s an emotional day for all. Opening my results as a teacher was nerve-wracking, and sometimes there were individual students I’d think didn’t get the grades they deserved and sometimes the opposite, but mainly it was a day when I’d celebrate the successes with my students and say goodbye and good luck.

Despite this I can’t help think that A levels are doing our kids a disservice. Some years ago the AS level was brought in with one of the results being it gave pupils the opportunity to study a slightly wider range of subjects. A mainly Arts student could carry on with Maths, and a Science enthusiast could keep up their studies in Art; though for only a few months.

We have now returned to the ‘gold standard’ three A levels. Yet all around us we see the results of our system’s narrowness in our intellectual and academic lives. Some scientists don’t understand the Arts, and, in return, some arts graduates don’t get science, statistics; many of us struggle with languages, and the humanities become a world of their own. It seems we can’t rely on GCSEs to carry the burden of breadth.

This is why I’d like to see more schools taking on the IB, and in an ideal world where funding and staffing wasn’t an issue, I hope that many would.

I am fascinated by the polymathic individuals whose knowledge across the two or more cultures sustains their intellectual curiosity. This is why I look forward to listening to Monkman and Seagull’s Polymathic Adventure on BBC Radio Four next week, a programme I hope will appeal to all teachers and all students. Despite a narrowness in exams studied it is possible, with great effort, to keep up interests in a wide range of subjects. The effort, however, is worth it –

So here’s to some great A level results and a continuation of a life lived as a polymath adventurer!

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10 thoughts on “A Level Results Day and the Polymathic Adventurer!

    1. muchwhat

      I think that is not fully accurate. The PYP is definitely based on an inquiry based ‘constructivist’ model. The MYP is a little less and is not so different from the IMYC. The IB Diploma is in reality quite a traditional program, certainly in terms of curriculum and assessment. The core (TOK, EE and CAS) are really all that separates it from a six subject diploma. Certainly, no school I have worked in with the IB Diploma had a constructivist approach at that level – you wouldn’t be able to get through the material. One of my observations and criticisms of the IB is that what it says on the can does not always match the content. And of course, the Diploma still has hidden limitations, such as the opt-out from Group 6 (Arts).

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      1. muchwhat

        Agreed – it is the best out there right now. There are some frameworks like he Common Ground Initiative but I would describe them as ’boutique’ rather than with wide potential. We just have to hope that the IBO works on the DP to improve it – the foundations are very strong and I would even argue there are hints of the Trivium model in the way the program is shaped.

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  1. Selena

    The IB is good but it is not perfect. Yes, it offers breadth but what about those students who want to specialise? Who would like to take three science subjects? Or, heavens forbid, two arts subjects. I’d like to see them keep the rigor but add a little more flexibility.

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      Yes it’s not perfect. Specialism can come later maybe… but I can see an argument for a more T shaped approach where there is breadth for all but the opportunity for study in an area in depth.

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      1. Chester Draws

        It’s a specialist world Martin. Those going on to specialised subjects will be disadvantaged compared to those that have more of the required subjects. That means schools that offer IB will lose a lot of their better students to schools that don’t. So schools won’t pick it up.

        I understand the need for a wider curriculum, but forcing students to do things that they don’t like and don’t need is ridiculous. Why would a person off to dance school be forced to take senior Maths? What is on offer for those that stay at school but aren’t particularly academic?

        Other countries manage to have systems that have the best of both worlds. Lots of flexibility right up to the end of school, so you can do a wide spread if you want, and a narrow one if that suits you better. The NZ system allows students to do up to six subjects to the end of school, but fewer — or less academic ones — if that suits them better.

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      2. Martin Robinson Post author

        As I’m suggested I can see an argument for a T shaped curriculum but I do think we specialise too early. In other words most pupils do not even get the choice not to narrow their options. As for forcing students to not do things they don’t like, what are you suggesting? All of schooling should be down to a child’s choice? Only do things they like? Lots of flexibility or a degree of flexibility? At the moment, in England, I suggest, for most, things are narrowing and there is little flexibility.

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